A little French magic
Date: January 30, 2008
Spotlight by: Brian Wray
Back in 1986, five brothers, from a small community in France took a small trip to London England. While touring the Square Mile, they noticed that their favorites games were selling for half the price they normally paid for back home. Coming from an enterprising background, their parents were successful agricultural merchants, the brothers saw an opportunity. With the financial backing from their parents, Claude, Christian, Yves, Michel, and Gerard Guillemot started Ubi Soft Entertainment. Yves Guillemot took the helm of this new company and quickly started publishing games. Rayman released for the PlayStation console selling several million copies and was the Ubi Soft's first taste of success. This would not be their last.
As Ubi Soft Entertainment grew, so did the need to expand beyond their headquarters in Montreuil-sous-Bois, France. The company started to look at other locations to open up a studio. They scouted cities such as Shanghai, Vancouver and Orlando, but in the end opted for Montréal as the ideal spot because of its rich French heritage and proximity to the English speaking markets. The company was able to secure a small grant from the Quebec government and in 1997 they opened up Ubi Soft Montréal. The newly formed game studio quickly secured a deal to develop a series of games based on the Playmobil line of toys. They produced games such as "Laura's Happy Adventure" and "Hype" Time Quest" for the Windows 95/98 platform. These games were well received and reviewed. They followed up this initial success with Donald Duck: Goin' Quackers for the Nintendo 64 game console. This game did very well and the potential from this studio was becoming very obvious.
Ubi Soft Montréal continued to develop small titles for various platforms such as the PC, the Nintendo Gamecube and the Playstation 2 console all while looking ahead towards the future of gaming. The first mainstream title released from Ubi Soft Montréal was "Batman: Vengeance" developed for the PlayStation 2 console. The game received mixed reviews from critics. Some called the game "bat-barrels of fun", while others complained that the game was "scripted and very linear" and "boring and predictable". Still the game was a huge hit with Batman fans and gamers alike. Ubi Soft Montréal's early success resulted in the need to expand. The company added 600 new employees in just the first three years of operations.
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In August of 2000, Ubi Soft Entertainment made the official shift into becoming a mainstream developer by acquiring Red Storm Entertainment. Red Storm Entertainment was founded by author Tom Clancy a few years earlier. Red Storm's first few titles "Politika" and "Dominant Species" failed to catch on with gamers, but the company was riding the waves of success with its Rainbow Six franchise. A direct result of this acquisition, Ubi Soft Montréal found itself in charge of the development of Tom Clancy's newest high profile title; Splinter Cell. Development work on Splinter Cell began immediatly for the new Xbox platform. This was not the first game for the upstart platform by Ubi Soft Entertainment as they had been a firm Microsoft partner from the first day with Ghost Recon. Splinter Cell was different from Ghost Recon in many ways. It was only exclusive to the Xbox console and therefore was developed with that specific platform in mind. The game was optimized to push the console to its full potential. It was one of the few games that also supported the new Xbox Live service (via downloadable content only). In November of 2002, Splinter Cell was released and the response was phenominal. Gamers loved the game, and so did the critics. Reviews of Splinter Cell were not just positive, they were radiant. The game was also the recipient for many "Game of the Year" awards. Splinter Cell was a huge success for all parties involved. Microsoft had a hit game exclusive to the Xbox console, Ubi Soft Entertainment has a new hot franchise. Ubi Soft Montréal following titles demonstrated that this success was not a fluke. The studio developed two more Tom Clancy titles in the following year with Rainbow Six 3 for the Xbox and Raven Shield for the PC. Both titles enjoyed similar critical acclaim as Splinter Cell. The success of Ubi Soft Montréal propelled Ubi Soft Entertainment into the world spotlight. This was a new era for Ubi Soft, one that was recognized by Yves Guillemot by changing the company name to a friendlier Ubisoft and adopting a new more stylized logo. With a new look in hand, Ubisoft continued to expand its foothold in the gaming community with Ubisoft Montréal leading the way by developing impressive titles such as "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" and the equally acclaimed sequel "Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones". They even managed to work their magic in reviving the long near dead Myst franchise with "Myst IV: Revelations".
All this success did not go unnoticed. Early in the year of 2004, Ubisoft was the target of a hostile takeover by gaming giant Electronic Arts. EA had just purchased about 20% of Ubisoft stock and was poised for a finishing blow. If the takeover move was genuine, EA should have done better to secure the amount of stock needed outright as this move provoked the share price of Ubisoft stock to jump 24% overnight. The move also prompted the French government and Quebec governments to offer financial support to Ubisoft to twart EA takeover attempt. The move worked. Ubisoft has won the battle, but the war was not over. War is not always won on the battlefield, this is something learned by Ubisoft Montréal EA opened its new EA Montréal Studio and started hiring many of Ubisoft's top level game developers. Ubisoft this time turned to the courts for help. The Canadian court system awarded Ubisoft with an interim injunction preventing their employees from working for EA for a period of one year after leaving the company.
With the exodus halted, Ubisoft Montréal was ready to grow again. The studio had plans on adding an additional 1,400 new employees to its rank by the year 2013. Once again the province of Quebec was more than willing to offer financial assistance. In the same year Ubisoft aquired Microïds Canada and merged the company into the Montréal studio. Ubisoft also expanded its bonds with mobile game developer Gameloft, porting many of Ubisoft top titles on cell phones. This decision was not just a financial one, as Gameloft was owned and operated by Yves' brother and Ubisoft co-founder Michel Guillemot. Even today, Gameloft gets the first right of refusal to all Ubisoft titles for portable platforms.
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When Microsoft made its next-gen console debut, Ubisoft Montréal was on hand once again with Peter Jackson's King Kong. The game was generaly well accepted with the only negative comments made about the duration of the gaming experience. Ubisoft Montréal would silence any critics with the release of Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas in 2006. This game allowed Ubisoft Montréal to once again attain the critical success of its last-gen counterpart. As it turns out, Rainbow Six Vegas would quickly be overshadowed by an even larger and more ambitious project; Assassin's Creed.
Assassin's Creed was a gamble even for a company as successfull as Ubisoft. The company had invested a huge amount of money in a brand new game idea, an idea that was surrounded by an aura of controversy from the start. Part of the problem may have been with the flip-flopping of company CEO Yves Guillemot on which console the game would appear. When first announced, the game was said to be coming to the Xbox 360, only to be later confirmed as a Playstation 3 exclusive title. The company was steadfast in this statement, even thought there was was plenty of evidence to support the fact than the game was also being developed for the Xbox 360. This charade went on for several months till Ubisoft finally confirmed what everyone already knew, that the game was to appear on both consoles. This ruse may have bought Ubisoft a lot of free press about the game, but it came at a cost of their reputation as a gamer friendly company. The hype over this Assassin's Creed continued to escalate till it was obvious that it would have been impossible to satisfy everyone. Once the game was released, it was well enough received even though game critics took no pity on the parent company. While not perfect, the game did elevate itself from other games enough to confirm that Ubisoft Montréal did not lose its magic touch.
Ubisoft Montréal's outlook look promising. Today, the studio now employs over 1400 skilled workers that are busy developing games for every platform on the market. Currently they are working on many high profile titles including "Far Cry 2" and "Rainbow Six: Vegas 2" for various platforms. They are also hard at work on the Xbox 360 exclusive title "Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction".
Ubisoft Montréal's Game library:
* Tonic Trouble (1999) (PC/N64)
* Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell (2002) (Xbox/PC)
* Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six 3 (2003) (Xbox)
* Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield (2003) (PC)
* Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu (2003) (GC/PS2/Xbox)
* Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2003) (GC/PC/PS2/Xbox
* Myst IV: Revelation (2004) (PC/Xbox)
* Prince of Persia: Warrior Within (2004) (GC/PC/PS2/Xbox)
* Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow (2004) (Xbox)
* Far Cry: Instincts (2005) (Xbox)
* Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie (2005) (Xbox 360)
* Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones (2005) (GC/PC/PS2/Xbox)
* Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (2005) (GC/PC/PS2/Xbox)
* Far Cry: Instincts - Evolution (2006) (Xbox 360)
* Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent (2006) (GC/PS2/Xbox/Wii)
* Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas (2006) (PC/PS3/Xbox 360)
* Assassin's Creed (2007) (PC/PS3/Xbox 360)
* Naruto: Rise Of A Ninja (2007) (Xbox 360)
* Far Cry 2 (2008) (PC/PS3/Xbox 360)
* Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 (2008) (PC/PS3/Xbox 360)
* Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction (2008) (PC/Xbox 360)